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30 November 2009


Edit: As background to this excerpt I thought it would be prudent to mention that this was written in reaction to the fact that Emerson's wife had died in 1832 (of tuberculosis at the age of 20) leading him to leave the church; he was a preacher. His son then died 1842 which led to his later darker and harder style of writing.

"People grieve and bemoan themselves, but it is not half so bad with them as they say. There are moods in which we court suffering, in the hope that here, at least, we shall find reality, sharp peaks and edges of truth. But it turns out to be scene-painting and counterfeit. The only thing grief has taught me, is to know how shallow it is. That, like all the rest, plays about the surface, and never introduces me into the reality, for contact with which, we would even pay the costly price of sons and lovers. Was it Boscovich who found out that bodies never come in contact? Well, souls never touch their objects. An innavigable sea washes with silent waves between us and the things we aim at and converse with. Grief too will make us idealists. In the death of my son, now more than two years ago, I seem to have lost a beautiful estate, -- no more. I cannot get it nearer to me. If tomorrow I should be informed of the bankruptcy of my principal debtors, the loss of my property would be a great inconvenience to me, perhaps, for many years; but it would leave me as it found me, -- neither better nor worse. So is it with this calamity: it does not touch me: some thing which I fancied was a part of me, which could not be torn away without tearing me, nor enlarged without enriching me, falls off from me, and leaves no scar. It was caducous. I grieve that grief can teach me nothing, nor carry me one step into real nature. The Indian who was laid under a curse, that the wind should not blow on him, nor water flow to him, nor fire burn him, is a type of us all. The dearest events are summer-rain, and we the Para coats that shed every drop. Nothing is left us now but death. We look to that with a grim satisfaction, saying, there at least is reality that will not dodge us." - Ralph Waldo Emerson, Experience 1844

I'm not entirely sure I agree, but interesting none the less. I feel about this passage the same way I often feel about Buddhism (to which both Emerson and Thoreau both have strong undercurrents of in their writings); it's not that I necessarily disagree with the concept. Yes, suffering is caused by desires, and by ending ones attachment to desires one can cease to suffer... but then why bother? Isn't that what, as my dad is fond of saying, makes life worth the price of admission?

This is Vija in the basement of the Lithuanian World Center. The photography there is outstanding. It's tucked away in a hallway that doesn't seem to be frequented too often, yet contains large black and white fiber prints dating from the 60's to the 90's and covers the entire globe. It was a very beautiful and unsuspecting find. This photo was taken on a cheap plastic Diana+ camera with 120 film.

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